Before the Coronavirus pandemic swept through the world, most of us didn’t think twice about making a quick trip to the store for whatever we needed. Browsing the aisles and flipping through racks of clothes was the norm; there were no limitations on social distancing and taking time to look around certainly didn’t cause a sinking feeling of fear. Now, our trips to the store involve rituals of safety meant to help flatten the curve. Our shopping lists may be limited and precise and could reflect on how our buying habits are changing during Covid shelter-in-place.

We now may buy only what we need, not necessarily what we want. Shopping could be a struggle now that many items are limited, and that our neighbors also are on the hunt for the same items…eager to mark off their lists, too. Shopping during Covid has almost become a sort of scavenger hunt as shoppers try to find what they need. The budget could be an issue, and many consumers may be waiting for their stimulus check[JO1]  to help make ends meet.

Here are the most common items Americans are purchasing during the crisis, and a few recommendations on swaps you can make for items that may be sold out (like toilet paper!).


Many stores across the country are limiting—or have limited—purchases of rice. Why is this grain so popular, though? Rice is extremely versatile, and it can be served with almost any protein. Plus, rice is a starch, which means it helps satiate our hunger. CNBC reported that the price of rice reached a “seven-year high” because of the Covid crisis.


Beans, like rice, are a great staple ingredient. Beans are an inexpensive source of protein and can be added to many dishes. Protein + versatility + cheap prices make beans a must-have and could explain why it tops many shopping lists…and why stores may limit purchases!

Canned Goods

Canned goods encompass full meals, veggies, fruits, sauces, soups, and even meat. Cans are a top choice for so many reasons: they’re typically cheap, they have a long shelf life and they are incredibly convenient. Shoppers can find full meals in a can—like spaghetti, stew, chicken and dumplings, and mac and cheese. Two big cans of ravioli or spaghetti could feed a family of four for only a few dollars. Canned meats may be used for easy meal prep. Think tuna casserole or chipped beef sandwiches. Cans may be the new fast food, especially for those who have nixed drive-thru trips because of budget issues.

As the crisis unfolded, cans began disappearing from shelves. Many sources recommended a 14-day supply of canned goods to ensure families were prepared during shelter-in-place. However, stockpiles are not the same as hoarding! The case of disappearing cans may have led your store to limit the number of cans you can purchase for each item. If there are restrictions, please abide by them!


Like beans and rice, pasta is very versatile…and easy to cook! Spaghetti noodles and other popular varieties were disappearing at a rapid rate during the stockpile surge. Now stores may have adapted their supply to meet customer demand…but this depends on your area. Stores also may limit the number of items you can purchase, too.

Cereal and Oatmeal

Must-have items at grocery stores may vary across the country. Bagged cereal, though, seemed to be popular—probably because of the lower price. Oatmeal also may be a must-have item.


Most of us quickly discovered wiped out meat sections in our stores. Ground beef and other popular choices like chicken breasts may have been sold out. Some stores sold out of their entire meat department! However, Poynter Institute reports that it’s unlikely—even as some meat plants close—that there will be a run on meat—or meat hoarding.


Depending on where you live, there might have been an early scurry to buy up milk. However, milk hoarding is fairly difficult. You can’t really freeze those gallons, and milk has a relatively short shelf life. Now stores are limiting customers to one gallon, so while milk remains on the list, it isn’t necessarily a grocery unicorn.

Non-Food Essentials

Stepping away from the food aisles, there are many other essentials that buyers were (and are) buying in bulk. Unfortunately, these items were popular for hoarding, too. For this reason, many non-food essentials may still be hard to find…or simply impossible to find. For this reason, we’re including other options that you can swap out when you can’t get the items on your list.

Covid Shelter-in-Place

Disinfectant Cleaners (especially Lysol)

Buyers seemingly wanted major brands for disinfectants and household cleaners. Lysol and Clorox disappeared during buying sprees. However, other brands were spared—especially discount brands.

Best Alternative: Off-brand cleaners!

If you can’t find the big names, look around for the cheaper alternatives. Most boast similar disinfectant properties—including antibacterial components. Just be sure to read the label. Also, some products may need to be mixed with water, so follow the directions!

Hand Sanitizer

Pumps—big and small—of sanitizer are grocery unicorns. Buyers did not care if the bottles were big brands or unknown. In a panic, many consumers just wanted some sort of protection against contracting the virus. So, hand sanitizers became a purchase that helped ease fears. Some buyers purchased thousands of bottles only to donate them as the items couldn’t be resold.

Best Alternative: Liquid Hand Soap (not DIY sanitizer)

So what can you use if there is no hand sanitizer? Many liquid hand soaps also have antibacterial properties. While they aren’t as convenient as sanitizers, they are better than nothing. Keep a bottle of water in your car to rinse your hands.

Interested in DIY hand sanitizer? An article in CNET cites experts who recommend against the homemade approach.

Toilet Paper

Arguably, the holy grail of all store purchases during the crisis, toilet paper is in high demand and, in some areas, still nearly impossible to find. While you may be tempted to buy paper towels to use in the bathroom, they are not ok to flush. Heavy paper goods like napkins and paper towels could spell disaster for plumbing. Instead, hunt for options that are safe to flush (or have a wastebasket handy for dirty paper!).

Best Alternative: Flushable Wipes!

As flushable wipes might not be on anyone’s shopping radar, they could be in stock at your store. Each store may have them located in a different section, though, so you may have to hunt down an employee. When buying wipes, it’s important to make sure that they can be flushed. Wipes that aren’t safe for flushing will note this on the container (usually there is a graphic with a toilet that is marked out). Flushable wipes will clearly indicate their toilet-safe status on the packaging!

Long-Term Solution: A Bidet

Bidet sales are on the rise, thanks to the toilet paper shortage. So what is a bidet? These toilet alternatives include a rinsing component that helps to ensure a clean…well…area after bathroom activities. Bidets are sold online at many home stores. Prices vary.

Our shopping habits and store routines have changed dramatically because of the threat of Covid. Since we may be sticking to essential items only, our lists may be shorter but much more concise. Many items are so popular because of their low price, versatility, and relative convenience. In addition, essential non-food items may be nearly impossible to find (like toilet paper). Shop smart, shop safe and understand that there are options to swap in for all those ‘unicorn’ items. As must-have items that we all want are replenished on the shelves, be sure to follow purchase limitations to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.